License to chill

Published 3:57 pm Thursday, February 9, 2012

Carving gets started at St. Joseph's Magical Ice Festival.

Once the agent of refrigeration and chilled drinks, ice has become an artistic medium.
Bud Lies, owner of City’s Pure Ice, in La Porte, Ind., understands this all too well. His parents purchased the ice company in 1967, when Lies was just a boy. He grew up in the business, and took it over from his parents in 1992. He did his first ice sculpture in 1985 and hasn’t looked back.

“In 1967, when my parents purchased the ice company, for ice cubes we took the block and cut that into inch-and-a-quarter ice cubes, machining that into inch-and-a-quarter cubes,” he said. “I enjoy working with a medium I’ve been around all my life, and taking a piece of ice and turning it into a sculpture. People review it and think it’s glass, and it’s not. We learn about the art of carving, fusing the ice together and going beyond the block of ice itself — that is an accomplishment. To create something — that’s exciting.”

Lies likes carving so much, he founded the Michiana Ice Carvers Association. Its members, a diverse group of men and women, promote ice carving and ice carving festivals throughout the Michiana area.

Competitions are challenging. Artists are usually given a limited time to complete their work. Judging involves meeting certain requirements.

Lies explained: “There’s the initial ‘Can you recognize what it is?’ and is it proportional, and does it make sense (in regard) to the title. Does it all come together and does it flow?”

According to Lies, carving the ice is the easy part. Picking a topic and creating the design are the tricky parts.

“Sometimes, if it’s commercial, the customer has a theme or an idea of what they want.

That’s not so bad. When you go to a winter festival, sometimes (the sponsor will request a special piece, or a logo). That takes pressure off. Sometimes the festival has a theme, so that makes it a little easier on you,” Lies said. “If there’s no theme, it’s open again, you’re looking for that sculpture that has ‘wow.’ You’re looking for something that is, usually, tall. You’re looking for something that will defy gravity. So you’re looking for this body that’s going to go perpendicular, and it looks like it’s going to fall over, but it’s not because you’ve got it balanced. Those are the things you start thinking about.”

It’s a special breed of people who carve ice. What most people consider a nuisance gets their blood pumping.

“We get excited when it’s 20 below zero, and it’s snowing out — a blizzard,” Lies said.
And how long does it take to carve an ice sculpture?
“Well, to actually carve it takes hours,” Lies said, “but to plan it, to dream it up, to get it from your head to your heart and from your heart to your hands, to bring it out in the ice, sometimes it’s long. The research can be endless. That is the challenge of the ice business.”
Lies and other MICA members participated in a carving event for EA SPORTS’ Super Bowl Party in Indianapolis, as well as IceTime in Dowagiac, Ice Breaker in South Haven and Winter Fest in New Buffalo. The group is also gearing up for the 8th Annual Magical Ice Carving Festival Friday through Sunday in St. Joseph.